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back to article Outsourced space trucks battle for US middleweight lifting title

There was much popping of champagne corks and back-slapping last Sunday when Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket finally blasted off from the launch pad at NASA's new Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Antares launch on 21 April. Pic: NASA Antares soars heavenwards on 21 April Following a launch abort on 17 April …

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Boffin

A bit one-sided

So Orbital Sciences charge $1.9bn to launch 8 payloads of 550kg to the ISS

SpaceX charges $1.6bn to launch 12 payloads that can total 6600kg each and can return 2500kg to Earth each time

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Re: A bit one-sided

My understanding is both SpaceX and Orbital are contracted to carry 20,000kg of cargo. The Cygnus factsheet indicates they can carry 2000kg standard/ 2700kg enhanced (whatever that means) which for 8 missions looks like they are pushing it a bit.

Dragon indicates 6000 up / 3000 down, although I don't think that is possible with the current booster, maybe with Falcon 9 1.1. However, over half of that space (by volume) is unpressurised cargo which they have only made use of once for a couple of grapple bars so far. The launches so far have not carried much mass, being constrained by the pressurised volume available.

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Meh

Re: A bit one-sided

A dramatic difference in capabilities.

If it were true.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cygnus_%28spacecraft%29

Delivered payload for Cygnus (which is the spacecraft Antares will carry) is 2000-2700Kg.

Even NASA won't pay quite that much for so little.

Perhaps you might like to try a little fact checking first.

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Gold badge

American jobs

You missed a bit from the end of your article about American jobs; Isn't the tin can (MPLM) that Orbital intend to launch at the ISS made in Italy? (Actually didn't the Italians manufacture a fair amount of the ISS?)

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Joke

Re: American jobs

Would certainly explain why it's sexy, goes fast and often requires repairs.

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Boffin

Re: American jobs

Alenia made the Columbus lab, most of the nodes, the three MPLMs and now the pressurised cargo section of the ATVs. They came up with a kit of parts with plain ring, ring with 4 CBM ports, plain endcap, endcap with CBM and endcap with Russian docking port. Pick two endcaps and however many rings you need and there's your module.

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Boffin

Re: American jobs

" Isn't the tin can (MPLM) that Orbital intend to launch at the ISS made in Italy?"

True. In Turin.

" (Actually didn't the Italians manufacture a fair amount of the ISS?)""

Also true. About 50% of the ISS really is "international" as in not built in the USA.

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Re: American jobs

"Actually didn't the Italians manufacture a fair amount of the ISS?)"

And the Russians, and Canada and other Europeans. The 'I' in ISS does stand for International...

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FAIL

Redundant Space Trucks

While there is a limited NASA manned space flight demand, you've ignored both the growing potential private manned space demand and the commercial and defense satellite market for which SpaceX and Orbital Sciences can now compete. Space will soon no longer be the exclusive domain of governments, and about time, too!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Space will soon no longer be the exclusive domain of governments!

... instead, the exclusive domain of governments & rich corporations.

While certainly an improvement, it's not actually going to be some kind of peoples paradise up there just yet.

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Re: Space will soon no longer be the exclusive domain of governments!

And that of course is more the groundbreaking bit, rather than the technology itself.

It's certainly headed in the right direction (after too many years of virtual standstill), but there is of course the risk that by going toward the private sector we go right back to this being very much national rather than international (cf all the talk in the article about American jobs) and the pioneering of areas further out than our atmospheric attic going back to being a Wild West race with all its inherent duplication of effort from nation to nation (or corporation to corporation) and costs going up again as profits are taken.

Arguably if the ISS was truly international, then why are the Chinese and probably soon the Indians going to have their own stations also flying overhead? If done properly anyone who has the capability to get stuff up there should be invited and incentivised to join the team.

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Pint

Re: Space will soon no longer be the exclusive domain of governments!

The future of space will certainly be private but you're partially right about it being national rather than international. Due to ITAR, American companies will have their own stuff in orbit while the rest of the world - or those parts of it that aren't stuck on a rigid government-first model - pools its resources and works together to put some big stuff together in orbit.

Of course, technology-wise, the US currently has a big lead, I haven't heard of any non-US parties with Bigelow-type expandable modules for example so it might take a few years (maybe 20) before the rest of the world overtakes the US...

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Unhappy

Re: Space will soon no longer be the exclusive domain of governments!

"Arguably if the ISS was truly international, then why are the Chinese and probably soon the Indians going to have their own stations also flying overhead? If done properly anyone who has the capability to get stuff up there should be invited and incentivised to join the team."

All sorts of reasons could be in play but lets start with a willingness to operate with safety standards that other ISS partners would not accept and a desire to conduct experiments that they would prefer that other not see, for example in orbital surveillance.

There is also the simple concern that others would see what their state of the art in orbital tech was and they'd be embarrassed by it.

The fact I think the latter sounds crazy does not stop it happening.

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Boffin

Note that in this context "Not ground breaking" means "works" without trouble.

And even then Orbitals schedule has drifted to the left about 36 months.

The fairly serious ground breaking tech will be the the Sierra Nevada Corp Dream Chaser.

Hybrid pusher escape rocket.

Human rated lifting body.

Composite construction.

I'll also note the AJ26's are the highest Isp LOX/RP1 rocket engines ever flown and the Merli 1d (which F9 will switch over to shortly has the highest T/W ratio of any rocket engine ever flown (as well as being fairly cheap for its size).

And this ignores Spacex plans to move to using SuperDraco thrusters as combined maneuvering and launch escape thrusters and their goal to launch a non NASA human crew by 2015, less than 9 years after the start of COTS.

The good new is that COTS/CCiCAP has for about $5Bn got 2 launch systems NASA human rated (F9 and Atlas V) , 2 cargo transport systems and at least 1 and possibly 3 human carrying vehicles designed and built since January 2006. Which in space tech terms is a bargain

Meanwhile the CxP programme managed 1 partial launch and SLS may manage a launch in 2017, or perhaps not.

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Happy

Good

I think any advancement (no matter how small) in private space exploration is a Good Thing. Western governments kind of quit trying & focus their resources on petty Terran politics instead of actually bettering society (which I thought was their job description).

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if you want advanced engine technology.. look to Britain

seriously - Alan Bond's skylon design with sabre engines.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylon_(spacecraft)

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: if you want advanced engine technology.. look to Britain

Yup, covered that here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/12/race_for_space_2/

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Headmaster

"New" Wallops? Not.

There is nothing particularly "new" about the Wallops Flight Facility itself. Is has been there for decades, mostly quietly launching boring stuff like sounding rockets.

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Happy

Re: "New" Wallops? Not.

You're right. It's so old that Chas 'n' Dave even wrote a song about it...

Yeurrchaaa!

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I know it's very small, but....

it looks like SpaceX still have their cowboy hitching a ride

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good.

civilian competition in the orbital launch business. Now a passenger lift/manned lunar mission/mass lift record isn't about national pride and propaganda, it's about corporate bottom lines and earning customers. let the new "space race" begin!

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Childcatcher

Groundbreaking?

The use of "groundbreaking" here is perhaps a little enthusiastic...

I would think breaking ground is exactly what should not be done with a transport rocket. Still, whether this is groundbreaking or not, having more options in the mix will eventually make space travel affordable to those of us with somewhat less than millions of dollars of disposable income. I am glad to see progress in this.

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Flame

Brits complaining about space?

Isn't that a bit rich considering you can barely put a lego figure on a balloon?

But yes, the Orbital system is apparently a method for diverting COTS money to some DoD pork barrel buddies, since Boeing has totally failed in their attempt to grab some.

You missed the fact that the Antares first stage is basically Ukrainian designed and made, even ignoring the engines.

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Boffin

Re: Brits complaining about space?

"Isn't that a bit rich considering you can barely put a lego figure on a balloon?"

Black Arrow achieved orbit with an LV not much bigger than the V2, which managed about 300Km.

But yes, the Orbital system is apparently a method for diverting COTS money to some DoD pork barrel buddies, since Boeing has totally failed in their attempt to grab some."

For cargo Orbital took up the slack after Kistler (heavy with ex NASA good ol boys) failed to get much done. OTOH Boeing are still viewed as #2 in the human carrying CCiCAP programme as they got the other full award and aren't competing in cargo. Only Spacex decided to go vor both and leverage their cargo experience in developing (well adding various bits to) Dragon to carry humans. I was truly amazed no one else went for this approach.

"You missed the fact that the Antares first stage is basically Ukrainian designed and made, even ignoring the engines."

All true.

But the first rule of Government con-tracting is "All that is not ruled out is permitted."

While you (or I) might have thought one of the goals of COTS was to avoid having any foreign companies act as sole suppliers of (major) chunks of the LV (there simply is no engine as good as the AJ26 anywhere in or out of production) that is not written into the contract.

Still no danger as long as Orbital have drawn up a reasonably tight contract with their major suppliers in the US and abroad, right?

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Re: Brits complaining about space?

"Isn't that a bit rich considering you can barely put a lego figure on a balloon?"

Ultimately there's not much money to be made by having a launch vehicle. Even the North Koreans can build one of those. So the commercial launch market is basically one of high costs and low margins in the long run.

However the satellites are much more difficult to make properly, and the real money is to be made from building them. We've got very good at those and the country has made a bundle of cash that way.

Same in the aero industry. The difficult bits of aircraft are engines, wings and avionics. The rest of it is basic metal bashing and/or variations on pâpier maché. And guess what? Rolls Royce has a hugely profitable order book, Airbus make their wings here and a lot of avionics comes from the UK too. That's cash in the bank, and it's not straight forward for a new competitor to emerge.

Mclaren have a nice order book for the MP12-4C, but they could end up making far more money from licensing their carbon fibre manufacturing technique. They now make a single piece hollow section carbon fibre chassis in 4 man hours. AFAIK everyone else, including the aviation industry, can't do hollow sections easily and take a lot longer.

Having said that we're spectacularly capable of sitting back and resting on our laurels and getting caught out by someone else who's invested and innovated.

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Boffin

Jobs for US workers

Why this fixation on jobs for US workers. In the 60s there were tens of thousands of people working on the Saturns etc. But with the advancement of technology and science, it's not necessary to use that many people to create even better rockets. It sounds like a lot of money, but compared to America's GDP and to the overall economy it's a tiny percentage.

Politicians are fixated on something that was true in the past, but no longer. Manufacturing and other businesses that require lots of people to generate work are declining in importance throughout the world. Service is the new manufacturing idiom.

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Happy

Re: Jobs for US workers

Because unlike jobs in McDonalds aerospace design and engineering jobs are a)Fairly well paid b)generate goods that people might come to America to buy.

" Service is the new manufacturing idiom."

Ever noticed when people talk about "strong" economies they tend to be ones that actually make stuff? The higher value the goods they make the stronger the economy is.

Now if you're talking about financial services that would be the people responsible for the almighty clusterf**k that flush the global economy into recession.

Or perhaps software. That's a nice stable high value industry, right? Except with the web your job gets off shored to China/Pakistan/Bangladesh/other 3rd world s***hole.

Perhaps you'd like to pop your ideas back in the oven for a bit before you bring them out. And before you ask I'll have fries with it as well.

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WTF?

Virginia?

That's a fair distance further North than one of NASAs other launch facilities.

Anyone know why they would want to launch from Virginia and lose some of the orbital advantages of being closer to the equator at a better or equally well supported launch site in Florida?

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Re: Virginia?

Naval Station Norfolk might have something to do with it. There's probably no safer place than next to the largest naval complex on the planet. Just guessing though.

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The curse of the NK-33

Is finally broken.

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Megaphone

Won't someone PLEASE think of the... future.

First of all, congratulations to Orbital Science Corp for getting their bird away, a successful launch. Kudos.

However, [beginrant] aren't they using a business model that is out-of-date? They, like ULA, build expensive rockets (150 million for Antares, 180 million for a mid-capacity Atlas V - these figures are speculation obtained by looking at whatever price figures pop up in people's quotes and finding the middle range but I DO think they're reasonably accurate), that have small expensive things on top and only fly about once every three-to-five months.

Fine as long as there isn't anyone else significantly undercutting you and will (probably, assuming nothing goes wrong) be offering more launches per year than Orbital & ULA combined within the next few years. Oh wait, that's SpaceX, 55 million for a Falcon 9 with a reusable 1st stage less than five years away. It's not unreasonable to think that in 2018 - five years from now - SpaceX will be testing a reusable 2nd stage while REL will be about to start testing the two 'boilerplate' Skylon prototypes.

Which leaves Orbital & ULA... where? Stuck with expensive rockets that don't fly very often while, short-term, SpaceX sucks up all the business for 5 to 6-tonne payloads and the market starts to prepare for even-cheaper, 15-tonne payloads for 10 million a pop.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be overly negative on Orbital/ULA. Building rockets and getting them to work is hard, no doubt about that and they, especially Orbital, deserve credit for their acheivements but what of the future? The game is about to radically change, the requirements to succeed will be significantly different and yet, listening to Orbital & ULA, you'd think that they could carry on as they are, charging large sums of money for an infrequent service that, very soon now, that will be offered for much lower sums and will be much more available.

Where, oh where, are there any signs that Orbital & ULA have their eyes anywhere but on this financial quarters figures?[endrant]

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Re: Won't someone PLEASE think of the... future.

I think you're largely correct however, you're making some heavy assumptions on what kind of cargo is going to be sent up. There's a better than good chance that Orbital are aiming for less publicized cargo than stuff to the ISS or civilian satellites. See my earlier post about Wallops proximity to Naval Station Norfolk.

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Boffin

Antares has been developed *soley* with NASA COTS funds

IIRC Wallops wanted to upgrade from a sounding rocket launch site to an orbital rocket launch site, ideally with multiple occupants and were willing to help Orbital build a pad (IE dump in a bag of cash).

Orbital also mentioned that their launches can be seen from Washington and would let the legislature know where their money was being spent.

Given that Orbital has been given an ISS supply contract before they had even got to preliminary design review this is money in the bank, but note those prices are already set. It's been suggested that they were specifically set "generously" to ensure Orbital would make a profit, and Spacex would have been happy with a considerably lower price per launch.

Wheather Orbital get a follow up contract after the 1st CRS one is another matter. They are also hoping to target the old Delta II payloads for NASA and anything on that size on the DoD EELV contract, although Spacex is pursuing that area with the F9 and F9H, which are much nearer Atlas V/Delta IV capability (and in the case of the F9H substantially above either).

And of course there's still no word on restarting production of the AJ26 either in the US or Russia, which is the ultimate limit on how many launches they can every make, while Spacex expect to be churning out Merlin 1d's for a long time to come.

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Are you really calling this 'space trucking'?

Ain't nuttin new under the sun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w5sE82dKV0

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